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Researchers study why people with asthma may be less likely to contract, experience severe symptoms of COVID-19

Published: Dec. 15, 2021 at 10:28 PM MST|Updated: Dec. 16, 2021 at 2:25 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Promising research from the University of Arizona is breathing life into new ways to treat and prevent COVID-19.

Fear for asthma sufferers has turned to fascination after scientists found the common condition may actually lower your risk of contracting the virus.

“[It is an] unexpected but very exciting finding that we just published,” said Dr. Donata Vercelli, a professor of cellular and molecular medicine.

Dr. Vercelli is an immunologist with a particular interest in asthma and allergies. She never thought her work would lead her to studying the culprit of a worldwide pandemic.

“Asthma, at least in principle, was thought as a major risk factor of COVID,” she said, “and yet, the proportion of people with severe COVID was much lower than we were expecting.”

It’s the same with influenza, according to Dr. Vercelli. Her department was awarded $7.16 million from the National Institutes of Health to investigate.

“It’s a theme of great relevance,” she said, “and this is something that is going to probably stay with us for a while.”

Like keys to a door, SARS-CoV-2 has to go through cells to infect a person. One of those doors is the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). Dr. Vercelli and Dr. Monica Kraft have found inflammation from asthma can reduce ACE2 receptors.

“If it were possible to demonstrate that the agents that trigger asthma in essence are also the agents that can suppress COVID receptors and either make COVID less likely or less severe, than one could explore it,” Dr. Vercelli said.

Which could help scientists replicate the phenomenon in others.

Dr. Vercelli says the 5-year study has just begun, and their findings are not universal.

“There are so many kinds of asthma and so it’s possible that this paradoxical interaction between COVID and asthma applies only to a subset of asthma cases,” she said.

She believes the study will have broader implications, helping us understand the different pathways viruses take when infecting humans and animals.

“In the end, it could provide explanations for things that we really don’t understand that much,” Dr. Vercelli said.

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